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Gen Y’s College Debt

There’s an article on the front page of today’s New York Times entitled Burden of Loans on College Graduates Grows.

This is a good article highlighting a tough problem that’s getting worse. What it doesn’t discuss, however, is the fact that long-term job satisfaction among college graduates is much higher than among those without a college degree. Reasons for this include the fact that those without college degrees are much more likely to work in dead-end jobs to make ends meet. And those without degrees tend to move from job to job more frequently.

According to the book Not Quite Adults “Education or training is a must. Without some form of training, young people face a future of patching together strings of low-wage jobs, forever teetering on the brink of hardship in an unforgiving economy that rewards brains over brawn. Today virtually all jobs paying a decent wage require a degree or certificate.” In addition, as mentioned in the New York Times article, those without college degrees are more likely to be laid off.

In my research for my upcoming book helping young adults identify their strengths and interests as they move toward college and career,  I interviewed many college grads with outstanding student loans, all of whom told me that they wished they had known what they were getting into. Instead of attending elite schools they would have chosen state schools or gone with scholarships or grants they were offered. The bottom line is that college is what you make it, and if you can’t afford to go to an elite school there are many other choices to enable you to graduate without crushing debt. So by all means, get the degree, but be careful about the sacrifices you’re making to do so.

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8 Responses to Gen Y’s College Debt

  1. Kids going off to college need to get real. Don’t attend a private school to get a fine arts degree if you’re not independently wealthy. The math doesn’t add up. If the jobs your degree will qualify you for won’t ever make enough money to pay back your loans, either study something more profitable or go to a cheaper school. It’s not rocket science.

  2. Allison says:

    Thanks, Cathy, for your comments here and on Brazen Careerist. I don’t necessarily agree with you about needing a trust fund to study something seemingly esoteric in college. The truth is that many people who have studied fine arts end up doing something not directly related in their careers. The idea of college is to get trained in using your mind, and to actively develop your interests while you’re there. What I truly believe, and what I’m writing a book about, is that at the end of your four years you should have amassed a portfolio of experiences and academic achievement that works together to impress prospective employers. Your “portfolio” should show that you know how to think and can extrapolate what you’ve gathered academically to the real world of work. That requires a lot of thought, a lot of networking to gain valuable experience and a lot of reflection about what has come out of each experience that can be applied to the next one. Otherwise, you’re right, private colleges are just for rich kids–or those who get a free ride.

  3. Sue says:

    Actually college can be so much more than many people get out of it. I went to the state college I live in for an undergraduate and 2 masters degrees. It was okay. The masters experience much better, but our college is huge and you have to work hard to survive and gain from it.

    I have been saving for my kids since they were born so they would have more choices than I did. No rich family just saving for what we believe is really important. My daughter goes to college in August and is attending Samford Univ. in Birmingham – a smaller private college.

    I believe like Allison, the experience will teach her to think, to learn, to be on her own, to expand her horizons, and will be a stepping stone for her to create the life and career she wants. My experience was to fight to get an education and to no get sucked in to the partying, sleeping, drama, and obscurity of a campus of 50,000+. We had huge lecture halls, no discussions, no creative projects…just lectures and tests. The student interaction was at bars or sporting events.

    Life and experience teach us and the investment in our kids education and environment is worth it!

  4. Allison says:

    Hi Sue, I also went to an extremely large university for undergrad–University of Michigan–and I’ve been reflecting more on my experience now that I have a son who’s a junior in high school and is looking at colleges. Because of my stories of getting lost in huge lectures of 300 people and getting little advice in my four years there, he’s not even looking at state schools. I know that college is what you make it, but the truth is that most kids lack the maturity or understanding of their own strengths and interests to get the advice they need. Small schools offer a lot more of that, although there are of course down sides to smaller campuses too.

    But among those I interviewed for my book, many went to small liberal arts schools, some of them elite schools, and I still had the sense that getting good advice was tough. I think parents can help by giving their kids license to be assertive about getting good advice and monitoring what advisors tell kids, to maximize their experience.

  5. You are absolutely right. It is quite ridiculous that we as a nation are crushing the younger generations in debt with this high cost of tuition. I did not get a loan. I paid my way through college working to make ends meet and paying out-of-state too. If you cannot afford college, learn a skill or find something cheaper. To hell with going to Ivy Leagues or popular colleges – the most important thing is that one gets an education and that one is willing to learn and grow.

  6. Sue Miley says:

    Hey Allison, I actually do career direction counseling too. One of the reasons was because of the poor advice and resources out there. The universities have the tools, but they don’t provide enough of the counseling part. It is still too cookie cutter.

    I also had experience similar to WorkingWomen Journal in that I paid for my college and would obviously recommend whatever someone can afford. It is worth the investment. However, I see some of the stuff that kids and parents spend money on and would not value it above education. Many times parents do not even want to pay the price of a good college direction counseling program yet will fun their child’s iphone and spring break.

    It is definitely about priorities. My daughter was accepted to other colleges and in the end the $20M per year difference made a difference, but it was a combination of factors, not just price.

    Thanks for your interaction!

  7. Allison says:

    Hi Sue,

    I’m sure your daughter made a good choice! It sounds like she’s lucky to have you.

  8. Diablo says:

    I am finishing up my last semester of college, having taken five years to get my undergrad. I didn’t go into college right away from high school. While I don’t recommend kids doing what I did (six years of active duty), I think it is crazy that we send teenagers, most having never lived one their own or made financial decisions, decide what they want to do with the rest of their life. While I think its important for people to “discover” themselves in college, the stark truth is that the cost now is crippling, especially if one makes a degree choice that they later regret. Students now are leaving with the equivalent of a mortgage except they don’t have the equity of a home behind it.

    I don’t really know how to fix anything on a national level…but its insane to me that we provide the same level of loans to students ignoring degree, potential future earnings, academic standing, etc. While everyone talks about the kids that graduate with a lot of debt, there are a huge number of kids that don’t even manage to graduate before they take on crippling amounts of debt. By offering the same amount of loans as to STEM as Fine Arts, we will naturally produce more Fine Art majors. We have the statistics that show how STEM enrollments are stagnant while FA degrees are climbing. We need to realize that not every kid belongs or should go to college. If my GI Bill would have paid for it, I would have gone to trade school…but it wouldn’t so I went to college.

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